It was the championship game of semi-pro soccer, and the score was tied. The Las Vegas stadium hushed as our fullback paused, ready to blast the game-deciding penalty kick between the posts. The thud of his toe striking the ball with cobra-like precision broke the tense silence. The goalkeeper tried, but the ball ricocheted off his fingertips and puffed the net as it bounced into the goal.

I’d waited my entire life for this moment. Soccer was my god, and I was singing hallelujah praises to the synthetic, air-filled orb that I worshipped. I looked up at the  board for our winning score, but suddenly, instead of elation, all I felt was letdown. Champagne corks popped around me like Fourth of July fireworks, but the words “is this it?” echoed through my brain.

The revelry didn’t last long once we cleared the stadium gates. My disappointment must have shown because, as the glittering lights of Las Vegas disappeared in the rearview mirror, my wife looked over at me and said, “Who are you?”

I had no answer. Our long drive home to Phoenix was quiet. Hitting the peak of my soccer career and finding it fleeting and meaningless left me empty.

A restless dissatisfaction began to build within me, and I started looking for fulfillment in other places. Unfortunately, nine months later, the State of Arizona had an answer to my wife’s question.

Who was Josh Jacobsen? Sex offender. Destroyer of innocence.

I was finishing up a long day as a physical education teacher when I got a call to come to the principal’s office. There, local police greeted me with serious charges of child exploitation. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the stench of the Maricopa County jail intake.

Because I was not only an elementary school teacher but also a coach for a girl’s youth soccer league, my mug shot was splashed all over the papers. I looked like a battered, mangy old sheepdog.

My victim was one of my 13-year-old soccer players. I was 31 years old, and never would I have imagined myself doing such a detestable thing. But I did. When your god is an air-filled orb and your church is a 120-yard chalked-up field of grass—your life is out of control, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Soccer was my escape. My marriage was crumbling, and I used that as an excuse to begin having affairs with the soccer moms in the league. Then I found myself basking in the starry-eyed idolization of my young, schoolgirl players. Their admiration somehow filled a void in my heart that an air-filled orb could not satisfy.

The encounter with my victim was brief, but it was enough to bring everything in my life to ashes. That sounds cold, but my focus was only on me. It would take time in a jail cell and the heart-piercing Word of God for me to fully recognize that my ash heap was nothing compared to the destruction I had caused.

My wife served me with divorce papers as I sat in the Maricopa County Jail. It was almost anticlimactic. Yes, my marriage was over—but so was my career and everything else I had known as a free man.

Eventually I bonded out, but I was looking at 25 years in prison, no job, no place to live, and, worst of all, no hope. My god, the air-filled orb, offered nothing.

Alone and on the streets, I longed for someone to talk to. After a while, I remembered Maria, my college sweetheart. We’d met playing Division II soccer at Grand Canyon University. GCU was Christian based, but I had only attended it because it had a great soccer program.

Despite the many years that had passed since our time there, I called her. Even knowing the nature of my charges, Maria was compassionate. We began dating, and she stood with me as my court battle raged on. We joined a competitive co-ed soccer league sponsored by Christ Church of the Valley (CCV). Something about those people was different. They were kind and understanding, and it was the first time I’d ever experienced such a feeling around Christian people. Still, I did not tell them about my charges as a sexual offender.

Eventually, I agreed to a plea: nine months county jail time and lifetime probation. I self-surrendered and walked into the rancid stench of my protective custody pod. The jail doors slammed shut behind me. There I was. Now what?

The next day, during a standard inmate movement, I was accidentally chained to a line of inmates getting shuffled into a general population pod. The panic in the eyes of the detention officers who rushed me off Main Street and into a protective custody pod revealed to me my permanent stain as a sex offender.

Even among the ranks of prison, I was at the bilge depths of society. I was unlovable and untouchable. I felt like the equivalent of a leper in Jesus’s day.

New Year’s Eve came, and there wasn’t much to celebrate in the pod, except for the sweet sound of Maria’s voice on the payphone. As I strained to hear her over the ruckus around me, she told me that I’d be receiving a visitor the next day, someone from CCV. Who in their right mind would come down to a rotten jail cell on a holiday to visit a leper like me?

The next morning, I was handcuffed to a marred, rat-chewed desk in Visitation. The man who sat down opposite me had a warm grin on his face and a tattered Bible in his hand. He introduced himself as Roger Munchian, founder of the Rescued Not Arrested prison ministry.

He told me he was a twelve-time convicted felon with a rap sheet that nearly turned my hairs gray. But through his arrest and broken life, God had rescued and renewed him. Then he opened his Bible and introduced me to a God far greater, more forgiving, and full of more restorative hope than I had ever imagined.

I put in a tank order for a Bible and spent most of my days alone in my cell, pouring through God’s Word. As I read, I began to recognize the depth of hurt and pain I had imposed on my young victim when I crushed her innocence. It is true that God’s Word is sharper than a double-edged sword. Remorse surged through my body as the Holy Spirit revealed to me that she was not the cause of my ash heap. She was much more than that. She was a precious child of God. And those soccer moms I’d objectified and used to fill the emptiness in my heart—they were God’s own daughters too. I had sinned against them and Him.

I could barely stand to be alone with myself. I couldn’t understand how God could possibly want or love me after what I’d done to such precious lives—especially a beautiful child of teenage innocence.

The floodgates of my heart broke, and tears soaked the pages of my Bible. I deserved to be wallowing at the stinking bilge level of this rat-infested jail!

I shudder to think what would have happened had Roger not continued to visit me weekly. I was like a heart patient on the table, my bleeding chest wide open, and Roger was the surgeon using the precise scalpel of God’s Word to mend the wounds from my life-ruining choices. I was overcome with guilt and shame, but Roger pointed out that I was also God’s child, and the depth of His forgiveness is unfathomable. God is not an accuser—He’s a rescuer. It was the enemy who wanted me to turn myself into my next victim.

In the months that followed, God used my remorse to draw me close to Him. I learned I could forgive myself because, through the grace of Christ, I was forgiven.

Upon my release, I registered as a sex offender, and then Maria and I got married. We were a unique case for probation—we planned on having children. Probation is not accustomed to decreeing family friendly conditions for sex offenders, and they laid out the guidelines—Maria would have to register as a chaperone. In other words, she would be my babysitter.

Before long, we had two children, and life got complicated. I wanted to be a good husband and father, but the rules of my probation made it difficult to participate in the care of my children. I could not be alone with them. I could not change their diapers. I could not bathe them. I could not discipline them.

So many times, I felt that Maria would be better off as a single mother rather than having this third, 170-pound child as an additional burden.

Ironically, following the rules led to disaster. I reported to probation every incident where I veered from the rules. Innocent mistakes, or so I thought. But one day my probation officer called, telling me Maria’s chaperone status had been revoked, and I was to move out of the house.

This was devastating news, but I had my faith in Christ, a loving wife whose faith in Christ was unmatched, and a solid church family. John 15:1–7 says that Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Had I not remained connected to the vine, our marriage and our family would certainly have withered.

For the next four years, the only contact I had with my children was through Skype and phone calls. The journey was wrenchingly arduous, but Maria and I remained strong, knowing Christ would not let us down.

I’ll never forget the day I was granted a weekend home. Thanksgiving. My kids asked Daddy to build them a monkey-bar set. God continued opening doors, and I was assigned a new probation officer who recognized my transparency in following the rules. After our first meeting and interview, she allowed me to go home immediately, with no parenting restrictions!

Remember that “is this it” moment I had back at the soccer field? I soon experienced another one, but this time my heart wasn’t empty. It was filled. My son’s teacher commented on what a great prayer warrior he was becoming. “This is it!” I thought. “This is what life is about—being the kind of dad who raises his children to love Jesus.” I want to be a man of God who shares the hope and love of Christ with those around me.

Jesus is ready to meet you wherever you are right now—no matter your past and no matter what label people or the law or the state or yourself  have put on you. You matter to Him. He’s crazy about you. He wants to make you new. He’s waiting—let Him come to your rescue!